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Celebrating Cuba's 'Irrepressible Spirit'

Art Show Grew Out Of Students' Visit

By Sara Gebhardt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 27, 2005; Page PG24

Despite its title -- "Viva Cuba! The Art and Architecture of Havana, Cuba" -- the Marlboro Gallery's new exhibition includes more images of people than it does of statues and buildings.

The show takes its name from an eight-day course at Prince George's Community College (PGCC), during which 15 students took daily walking tours of Havana's neighborhoods and museums. Five of the class members -- Ann Krumrein, Aaron McDaniel, Sally Oldham, Ted Oldham and Valerie Watson -- created the show's photographs and drawings. Their Cuban-born professor, Alicia Juarrero, who led the trip, also lent pieces by contemporary Cuban artists from her personal collection.

"Habana Fisherman," by Ann L. Krumrein of Lanham, is part of the college's exhibition, which runs through Feb. 11. (Ann L. Krumrein)

"Buildings are buildings, and they're interesting, but the Cuban people had this irrepressible spirit," said Watson, 59, a PGCC adjunct art teacher and Cheverly resident. Although Watson's exhibited work includes pen-and-ink drawings of building facades, her trio of large watercolors of dancers and musicians dominates a gallery wall and represents the Cuban spirit she describes.

Although two of her botanical paintings were displayed at the American Embassy in Cuba as part of the U.S. State Department's "Art in Embassies" program just three months before her departure, Watson never expected to experience Cuba firsthand.

"It was my dream to go to Cuba," she said. "I had this idea that my art was going, and I was probably never going to get to visit this place. It was unbelievably beautiful." During her visit, the embassy held a dinner in her honor, where she met well-known Cuban contemporary artists such as Arturo Montoto.

Watson, Krumrein and McDaniel woke early every day and left their hotel in old Havana looking for images to capture. Both Krumrein and McDaniel took numerous shots of people they met on the streets. "You were just assaulted by the color and warmth of the people," said Krumrein, 60, who lives in Lanham. Her color and black-and-white photographs include the collage "Irrepressible People," which depicts Cubans of all ages posing and dancing.

McDaniel's photos, arrayed on two gallery walls, are small, close-up portraits of single subjects in blackandwhite. His subjects include a bearded man smoking a cigar, a laughing woman holding a cigar, the driver of a vintage car and a woman holding a broom on the sidewalk.

"I wanted to use smaller images, to draw you into the picture, so that the viewer can see what we experienced there," said McDaniel, 44, an amateur photographer from Hyattsville. "We learned a lot about architecture, but my primary purpose there was the people. Once you get there and see them, you can't help but photograph the people. They steal your heart.

"I actually didn't get enough of the people. There wasn't enough time," he said.

Krumrein, for one, would go back tomorrow. Not only did Cuba become an artistic muse for her, she said, but the country "infused in me a real appreciation personally for life and showed me there's such incredible beauty to be found out there."

"Viva Cuba! The Art and Architecture of Havana, Cuba" runs through Feb. 11 at the Marlboro Gallery, Marlboro Hall, Prince George's Community College, 301 Largo Rd., Largo. On Saturday from 6 to 8:30 p.m., there will be a reception for the artists in the gallery. Admission is free. 301-336-6000.

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